A Glimmer of Hope this Diwali

Recently I was in Mumbai, the city where I grew up when it was called Bombay, back in an era where life was much simpler, and the air was relatively pristine! This was the first time in more than three decades that I was back in town to celebrate Diwali, the Festival of Lights. Four centuries have passed since the Portuguese first arrived here and named it Bom-Bahia, meaning the ‘good bay’! In 1661, Charles II of England married Catherine of Braganza and the Portuguese gave him the islands of Bombay as a ‘dowry’! With little to no interest in a mosquito infested island thousands of miles away, the monarch transferred his inheritance to the East India Company for a princely sum of 10 pounds! The rest, as they say is History!

And here I was lamenting the fact that this charming city was shrouded in thick smog, the bane of industrialization and progress as we march onwards in the 21st century. The Bombay High Court had just passed an order narrowing the window from three to two hours when residents would be allowed to burst crackers during Diwali in an attempt to alleviate the air quality index or AQI, a barometer for measuring pollution! Is it a case of too little, too late? I was conversing with my 94-year-old dad about the dual impact of noise and air pollution in the city during this beautiful festival. And then I chanced upon an article in The Hindustan Times written by Charles Assisi (Nov 11, 2023), who deftly argues that until a few centuries back, Diwali was celebrated for millennia with a simple gesture of lighting a lamp, before fireworks were invented in the 15th century.

But what caught my attention in the article was an absolutely stunning painting of a woman dressed elegantly in a traditional Indian attire and holding a lamp in her hand. She is covering the lamp with her right palm and the beam illuminates her face so radiantly. A shadow of her silhouette contrasts in the background on the wall behind her. As I kept adoring the painting, I was reminded of the Sanskrit verse from the Upanishad, ‘Asatoma Satgamaya Tamasoma Jyotir Gamaye, Mrtyorma Amritam Gamaye’ – lead me from the unreal to real, from darkness to light, from ignorance to immortality:

S.L. Haldankar, watercolor 1945-46
Image courtesy Hindustan Times 

And as I kept reading the article, my eyes widened when I saw the name of the artist -S. L. Haldankar. I instantly recognized this as my dear friend, Dr. Gautam Haldankar’s grandfather. A brilliant watercolor artist, the senior Haldankar honed his skills at the prestigious J.J. School of Art in Mumbai. This masterpiece was completed around 1945, a short time before India’s Independence from the British and is now housed in the Jaganmohan Palace in Mysore. What a brilliant illustration of self-reflection, such poignant beauty! You can see more of his creative artworks here.

One of his sons was the highly talented but underrated maestro of Hindustani Classical music, Pandit Babanrao Haldankar, Gautam’s father. He belonged to the Agra and Jaipur Gharana and trained under stalwarts like Ustad Khadim Hussein and Vidushi Mogubai Kurdikar. He has several compositions to his credit and has written books on Indian classical music. A resident of Girgaum, near Opera House he studied Chemical Engineering at the prestigious University Department of Chemical Technology (UDCT), Mumbai, where both Gautam and I studied much later and were classmates. Not to be outdone, Gautam himself is a talented sitar player - and so the artistic baton has passed onto three generations!

Watching Haldankar’s beautiful painting gives me hope that Mumbai will rise through the smog and once again be that beautiful shining city on the hill.


More by :  Subra Narayan

Top | Festivals

Views: 424      Comments: 5

Comment A perfect association of the painting's beauty and artistic quality with the hope of a renewed Bombay.

Monal Patel
26-Nov-2023 16:00 PM

Comment Very nicely written...glad to read your writing after a long time!! Keep it up...

25-Nov-2023 11:19 AM

Comment Beautiful write up on a most amazing piece of art that caught my attention when touring through Mysore Palace. I was in my late teens then. I always wondered what those eyes were trying to express.

20-Nov-2023 09:47 AM

Comment Impressive painting and article!

20-Nov-2023 08:01 AM

Comment Very nicely written Subra. The painting is even more beautiful and to know that it’s the Haldankar’s make me feel good.

Edward Menezes
19-Nov-2023 22:44 PM

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